Energisers: Activities to refresh learner engagement

Energisers in your toolkit

Every trainer needs to have a few energisers in their ‘toolkit’. Do you see the attention level of your learners drop? That’s when you need to use an energiser. That could be after a lunch break or in the middle of the afternoon when your learners are getting tired and start looking at the clock, ready to go. There are energiser card games that you can buy off the shelf like ‘Happy Salmon’, but most energisers don’t need any or only limited resources.

What is an energiser?

An energiser is a short activity that’s designed to actively engage the learner and refresh their mind when attention levels have dropped. Energisers often require the learners to get off their chairs and move around and interact with others. I prefer to differentiate icebreakers from energisers. Icebreakers are primarily used to get people to know each other at the start of a training session and may raise the energy levels at the same time.

What you need to consider

Some energisers are more physical than others or include a degree of physical contact. Be mindful that not everybody is able to get up from the floor, walk around or feels at ease with touching others. Think about gender, cultural background, physical ability etc. when you’re selecting your energisers. Also allow learners to opt out of the activity if they’re not comfortable. They can still be engaged by watching others. Another point to consider is whether you want to link the activity with the training topic and do a debrief, or just want to have a bit of fun.

Resources aplenty

When you go online looking for energisers, you’ll feel like a kid in a candy store. There are so many good websites with training resources that offer free downloadable instructions for trainers. Here is my top 4 selection of training resources when you’re looking for energisers:

  1. Sessionlab.com
    This website is my favourite due to the layout with short descriptions and the type of activities. You’ll find 70 different energisers on this site.
  2. Trainerbubble.com
    With 170+ energisers, you’ve got plenty to choose from. Unfortunately, you have to click on every energiser to read more information.
  3. Funretrospectives.com
    This website has less energisers to choose from, but is still worth to have a look at.
  4. Participatorymethods.org
    I found this amazing list of 100 energisers, curated by the Aids Alliance for community engagement. It can also be found on slideshare.net.

Browsing through these websites, you’ll notice that several energisers are mentioned on different websites under different names, so that might indicate that they work really well.

Man playing the box energiser activity
#Play14 Sydney

My favourites

I have used energisers as a trainer myself, but also engaged in these activities while attending courses. I would love to share my favourites with you. These energisers don’t need many resources and they’re fun activities to do as well as to watch.

  1. Clap your hands (communication, team work)
    Learners stand in a circle. Two learners start with clapping their hands at the same time without verbal communication. One of these two turns around and does the same with the person on their other side. This continues till the whole group has clapped their hands. You then encourage the group to go quicker.
  2. The box (thinking outside the box, problem solving)
    Get an empty cardboard box and put it in the middle of the room. Learners take turns to pick up the box without using their hands. When every participant had their turn, you tear about 5 cm off the top of the box and repeat the exercise. The last person succeeding to pick up the box has won the activity.
  3. Back picture (communication)
    Learners stand in a line, looking at each other’s back. You give the last person in the line a word that they need to draw a picture of. They draw it on the back of the person in front of them and that continues through the line of people. The person at the other end draws the picture on a flip chart. Discuss the result or just have a laugh. You can have more lines for larger groups and add a competitive element.
  4. Paper and straw (communication, team work)
    Let learners form a line and give everyone a straw (cardboard please). The person at one end of the line needs to pick up a small piece of paper with the straw and hand it over to the next person in line, only by using the straw. The goal is to let the piece of paper move from person to person to the other end of the line. You can have several groups competing against each other to add to the fun.
  5. Untangle (communication, team work)
    All learners stand close to each other in the middle of the room. Ask them to put up their hands. Every person grabs with their right hand, the left hand of another person who is not standing next to them. With the left hand they take a right hand of a different person. Then the group tries to untangle themselves without verbal communication.

Have a play

When you’re developing your next training session, find a few energisers you could use. You can add the energisers to your lesson plan at times when you’re expecting a drop in attention levels. But also know at least one or two energisers that you can use in most situations. And then just have a play and find out what works for you as a trainer and for your target audience. Have fun!

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